Hybrid or flexible employment has enormous promise for workers and businesses around the world.
However, how it plays out will be determined by the daily decisions made by leaders and teams.
The majority of businesses will shift to a hybrid or flexible work environment in the next months, giving employees varying degrees of flexibility in terms of where, when, and how they work.
If you’ve ever managed virtual teams or team members, you might believe you’ve been here before, but this is going to be very different.
Some employees are eager to return to the office after a year and a half of working remotely, while others have enjoyed not having to commute and being able to work from anywhere.
Some people believe that achieving work-life balance entails drawing clear lines between work and leisure time. Others define it as the ability to work at any hour as long as the job is completed.
What is known is that employee expectations are wide-ranging and higher than they have ever been. My team recently conducted a series of assessments with leaders from a variety of firms in order to identify and map out their views about where and how work should be done. Three things emerged from this:
- Workplace mindsets are more diverse than they’ve ever been. The preferences of executives for virtual versus office-based work, as well as flexible versus structured employment, were all over the place.
- Leaders imagined that others shared their preferences more closely than they actually did.
- As leaders manage this transition with those who may approach work in very different ways, curiosity and empathy are more vital than ever.
Many businesses are already experiencing higher-than-average employee turnover. Employees have stated that if their current employer fails to match their expectations in terms of work and life, they will seek employment elsewhere.
Companies have conducted extensive research, soul-searching, and planning in order to develop hybrid work policies. After all, these frameworks must be equitable and inclusive, while also balancing the demands of individuals, teams, and the organization. Now the question is: how will these recommendations actually work out, even if they have the finest of intentions?
What factors will affect the hybrid strategy of a business?
The easy part is over: hybrid plans, policies, and new workplaces have been completed. However, for many businesses, the next step is less clear: how leaders, teams, and employees will really translate and apply the concepts into new ways of working.
The following factors will eventually determine whether or not a company has a hybrid or flexible work culture:
- The leaders’ and employees’ perspectives on how they function best;
- The thousands of (often minor) decisions your leaders will make every day in critical situations;
- The ability of your teams to figure out what hybrid means to them, and then how they learn and iterate to reach high performance;
- The ability of your company, its management, and its employees to adapt to ongoing change.
It’s safe to suppose that we won’t get it immediately away. Instead, leaders and teams must be deliberate in their approach to returning to work and react rapidly as events unfold.
When the environment changes so radically, the approach to leadership and team collaboration must shift as well. Companies that foster a culture of humanism, empathy, and rapid learning will be the most successful.
Getting ready for a hybrid future
Although no two businesses will handle the shift to hybrid work, in the same manner, there are key considerations that all businesses should consider. As you move forward with hybrid or flexible models, here are three critical methods to consider:
1. Use simulations to prepare your leaders for what lies ahead
Hybrid and flexible work will require more senior leadership across your organization, leadership that can balance competing priorities and negotiates unfamiliar ground.
Why not give leaders a taste of the important moments they will confront by recreating those events instead of tossing them into the ring without any preparation? This will allow them to become more aware of the trade-offs, ramifications, and unintended consequences of their decisions.
It will also help to inform and influence their real-world behaviors, attitudes, and approaches to these situations.
Let’s imagine you’re working on a major project with a tight deadline that necessitates extensive team collaboration. Is this the time to assemble the team in person?
What kind of attitude would you need to successfully engage and lead a scattered team? What if there’s a gender divide among those who come into the office more frequently versus those who work remotely?
A simulation technique can help executives prepare by: – revealing their work mindsets and preferences.
- Developing empathy for other people’s perspectives and preferences;
- Recognizing potential leadership risks and determining how to mitigate them;
- Examining how their thoughts affect their conduct during critical hybrid leadership moments;
- Investigating the unintended consequences of leadership decisions in hybrid workplaces;
- Being consciously adaptive builds capability and confidence in leading the move to hybrid work.
2. Prepare teams for success in large-scale hybrid work.
The duty for preparing teams for success does not fall solely on the shoulders of the leaders. Equipping teams to take control of how they work and drive this shift forward jointly is also critical.
Teams need a forum to:
- Interpret hybrid work guidelines and what they signify to the team;
- Know exactly what each individual needs, desires, and expects in terms of where, when, and how they work;
- Talk about how to strike a balance between the demands of individuals, teams, and the firm;
- Conceive ways to generate a sense of belonging, productivity, learning, and growth among the team members;
- Stay away from making rigid plans. Instead, come up with a list of experiments to see how well the team will operate together.
The goal here isn’t simply to achieve buy-in, but also to gain agreement on how the team will operate together in the future in an inclusive manner.
Following these first meetings, you can check in on your team’s progress and discuss what’s working, what needs to be altered, and what everyone has learned along the way.
Beyond the level of individual teams, the corporation requires data and insights from all levels to learn how to move forward.
You may gather real-time data to understand what your people want from work, how teams are setting themselves up, and what is working against what isn’t by using digital tools to hold these dialogues. Then you can rapidly pivot.
3. Consider how individuals and groups react to change.
The epidemic accelerated transformation at a never-before-seen rate. More upheaval is certain as the world opens up again, and the future of employment will continue to adapt. If leaders, teams, and organizations aren’t prepared to embrace continuous change, they’ll struggle to execute and risk burnout.
Examining how your leaders respond to change allows them to look at the underlying attitudes that drive these actions, both on an individual level and in the context of the company’s culture.
You can assist people to let go of the things that cause them to resist, avoid, or try to manage change by recognizing these mindsets and behavior traps.
Through hybrid work, you also assist them in developing the change-ready mindsets and behaviors they need to lead.
In conclusion, hybrid work may be the greatest workplace innovation of our time — or it may be a disaster. Leaders and teams must be deliberate, compassionate, and change-ready to make the most of it.
Those that succeed will continue to experiment in order to develop new working methods that allow individuals to do their best work.